If You Build It, They Will Come

Most of us know that famous phrase uttered by the voice in the corn field in the movie Field of Dreams. Of course, it referred to building a ball field so that long-gone ball players could come back and play the game again.

In today’s context, I’d like to talk about building the right HR infrastructure in our organizations designed to do two things: attract the right people to our organization, and, more importantly, attract the attention of our executive team so they recognize that HR holds a special place in the organization.

HR is viewed by most corporate executives as simply the compliance police, the party planners, or the rock in the road. I can say this because I’ve interviewed many CEOs and regularly hear, with few exceptions, stories on that theme.

This saddens me because if we can build the right HR infrastructure, those same executives would learn to never make a move without consulting their HR business partner. What stands between a solid HR function and one simply focused on compliance and party planning is the level of strategic vision the HR person brings to the table.

Business owners and executives today are required on a nearly daily basis to be thinking and planning ahead about how to meet their corporate strategy. Oftentimes, HR is clearly a part of that corporate strategy, but HR doesn’t have its own strategy to incorporate.

We have to build out that HR strategy and, in order to do so, we have to have the right processes and information that allow us to operate efficiently and tactically to solve our business’ most pressing problems.

In fact, just today I had lunch with someone who is a salesperson for an HR-based tech solution who was lamenting the fact that when he can get to the business owners, his product practically sells itself. However when he has to go through HR, HR is more worried that his product will take their jobs away from them because they won’t have to own as much administrative work anymore.

If this is what we’re building from an HR perspective, our company will not be able to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce, nor will we be able to compete in tomorrow’s business world.

The first thing Ray, the farmer in Field of Dreams, had to do in the movie was plow his field under. People ridiculed him because the crop was bringing in money, but he knew he had to do it in order to make room for the ball field.

If we build it, they will come. What do we as executives need to plow under to make room for something bigger and better in our current HR infrastructure?

Do we need to let go of relying on HR to simply be the compliance police and challenge them to be something better? (Because we have a right to expect them to be something better than that.) Do we have to let go of HR simply being the hiring function and allow our front-line managers a say in some of the hiring decisions? After all, they’re the ones that need to manage the employees on a daily basis. Do we need to plow under HR being the party planning committee? (Because that’s not an effective use of any management person’s time and can easily be handed off to an employee subcommittee.)

Even if we decide to plow something under to build something else up, the question becomes: What type of person do we want in our HR function? What do we want to be the basis of our new field of HR dreams?

I believe that person first and foremost has to be a great communicator. They need to not only be able to walk onto the floor and communicate with the front-line people but to sit in a board room and help make strategic decisions about the direction of the organization. That is probably a different skillset than most of today’s executives expect from HR.

Are we willing to plow under doing things manually and embrace tech to free up our HR people to be more strategically-minded to work on things like building the right type of culture, building an employment brand that will sustain us, and building out our leadership development initiatives that will sustain our business in the coming years?

Just like Ray had to do more than just plow under the corn, he needed to grade the field out, build bleachers, bring in lights, etc. Then, the players started coming.

I believe if we are willing to break the mold of our expectations for HR and then go out and find the person who can deliver on our new expectations, we will see results in our business we had only dreamt about before.

Because while HR is certainly about people, it’s just as much about impacting our bottom line.

In fact, isn’t every department we have in some way, shape or form focused on impacting the bottom line of our business? HR should be no exception to that. As executives, we should expect that our HR function drives bottom line results for us. So, if yours is not, it’s time to plow the corn under and build the field you want that’s going to attract the talent you need.

One of the other phrases we heard from the voice in the corn field was “go the distance.” In my next blog, we’ll talk about how HR can help us go the distance in our businesses and how we can leverage an organizational development approach to HR to attract the best and brightest talent available.

But before we go the distance, we have to build the playing field. That’s our job as business executives. When we’re willing to plow down the corn of our past expectations to make room for the new playing field, then we’ll be ready to go the distance.